Mental health experts across the globe say psychiatrists should ‘embrace’ digital health

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Mental health experts commissioned by the World Psychiatric Association say “the digital psychiatry revolution has arrived."

A commission of mental health experts from around the world says psychiatric care in the digital age will rely on the ability to integrate new technology into the rapidly evolving specialty.

The Commission on the Future of Psychiatry, created by the World Psychiatric Association and The Lancet Psychiatry, outlined critical opportunities to navigate the 21st century in a paper published by The Lancet. A major aspect of that approach will be a broader integration of digital health tools that will be a key resource for mental health providers.

“Psychiatry should embrace the possibilities offered by digital technology, and take an active role in ensuring research and care delivery in this area is ethically sound and evidence-based,” the commission wrote.

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Although experts argue that “the digital psychiatry revolution has arrived” due to widespread adoption of smartphones, they also acknowledged the considerable task ahead to ensure that new tools are rigorously tested and effectively integrated into clinical care processes. The commission pointed specifically to privacy concerns that could derail the use of technology and patient engagement without better transparency and dedicated standards.

“At present, serious concerns remain regarding the privacy, transparency, and confidentiality of digital health tools,” the authors wrote. “The current culture where smartphone app privacy policies are often non-existent or, when present, obfuscate how patient data are handled and shared is not compatible with the goal of widespread clinical use.”

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The group’s perspective reflects some of the same findings outlined in a new study published in World Psychiatry, the official journal of the WPA, in which researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 18 studies examining smartphone interventions for depression. They found that mental health interventions delivered via smartphone applications can reduce symptoms of depression, but more research is needed to understand which characteristics were most effective for certain patient populations.

 

“As smartphone apps for mental health are becoming easier to create, focusing research on specific populations will enable more personalized and likely effective uses,” the study concluded.